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'Branden's Choice:' How One Family Is Turning Personal Tragedy Into A Message of Hope

In 2019, John St. Clair lost his son Branden to suicide. Since then, John and his family have made it their mission to tear down the stigma surrounding teen mental health. St. Clair has created a network of education and counseling options with the establishment of the B.E.D.S. Teen Outreach Center, which provides emotional support, education, assistance, and intervention as needed to all youth and young adults in crisis.

John chronicles his son's tragic death in his book, Branden's Choice, and hopes that by sharing his story about the unknown side of suicide and its effects on those left behind, it will change one mind, one heart at a time.

To learn more, read A Good Book To End The Day’s interview with the author below.

Why was writing a book the next step in this journey?

The reason behind writing the book, I guess, was the influence of all of the kids and families that I was speaking with. A lot of people pushed me in the direction of writing the book for information's sake, to let people, mainly teens, and other people that may have been finding themselves at that moment, see the aftermath of what such a choice would bring about. So that's what really pushed me, the kids.

It’s so strange to think about mental health being such a taboo subject, but it is. There is so much negative stigma behind it. Why do you think that is, and what can we as a society do to combat that?

That's a really big question, but there are so many different facets to it. But I feel that some of the main reasons that I've found so far for teen mental health being so taboo is the backlash that a lot of young people get when anyone finds out that they're having a mental issue, be it major depression or anxiety attacks, or they find themselves self-harming and then having to actually go and speak with somebody. It's not kept private very much in public schools. And then there's always the other side at home. There's always someone in the home who feels that going to a doctor for mental health is just ridiculous. Or you can get over it by going outside and playing or by finding more friends.

It's never seemed like an issue. And now that it is, I see people starting to figure out that we need to really pay attention to this, but we're not doing it fast enough. We're not doing it fast enough, and we're losing our kids. And by them not being able to speak out and not being able to get the help they need, they're growing up thinking that you keep your feelings inside. You don't need to tell anybody these things. It's my problem and my problem alone. It's terrifying.

I’d love to hear more about your teen outreach center and the work your family has done to provide support where it's needed.

It's a very big endeavor. We've gone in a lot of different directions, mainly focusing our efforts on the teens themselves. We have our own board of directors, but then I created a junior board of directors, so the kids get together just like the adults do, and they figure out what is working for them, what they need, and what isn't working. We do have a licensed counselor come every month, but we just listen to the kids, and if they feel that they need a counselor, we connect them with one for free.

We have workshops on suicide, depression, anxiety, and self-harm. We just started an anti-bullying and cyberbullying class. All these things are designed to let kids know that they don't have to just depend on their schools. They don't have to just depend on counseling systems that are available on a pay basis. It's more focused on getting the kids to open up and talk among themselves more. That's what it's all about, to let them know that they're not alone. They can speak out about these things. Nobody's going to complain. They're in a safe environment. Everything that we've done is good. It's working, it's helping a little bit at a time, but it's very amazing to watch it.

I read that you have plans to go before Congress in support of an anti-bullying bill. Can you speak to that?

Yes. I've not found anything at all that was anywhere near my standard, or I'm sure, any parent's standard for an anti-bullying bill. So I began this two-year journey that I've been on trying to revise and rewrite a new anti-bullying bill that would target those under 18. If you become a bully and you decide to bully physically, then there will be repercussions as a misdemeanor or even up to a federal offense. It would go on your record. It would force parents to be involved by having them pay fines or having them do community service with their child.

At the same time, right at the very beginning, it would force parents to get their child some type of counseling. This would all be federally backed, not state-run because I find that the states kind of do what they want in a lot of instances. So I'm going to really try to push to make this a federally backed bill.

I know mental health is such a complex subject, but if there was one overall message that you hoped readers would take away from “Branden’s Choice,” what would it be?

You are not alone, and suicide should never be an option. I would hope that anyone that may be in that state of mind or know someone that's in that state of mind would please be aware of what you're leaving behind. I've found that a lot of young people idolize suicide. It's a strange ideology that everything's going to be better when they're gone. That's the dark place that suicide takes you to. There's so much more pain created by suicide than the suicidal person will ever understand if they're gone. So please reach out. Please speak out to someone.

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If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255, is available 24/7. It is free and confidential.

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